Israel has granted local food tech startup Remilk, a developer of cultured milk and dairy, the first regulatory approval of its kind to market and sell cow-free milk products to consumers in the country.
The Israeli-based startup said that the “historic” regulatory approval by the country’s health ministry clears the path for the sale of dairy products made with Remilk’s non-animal protein that are free of lactose, cholesterol, antibiotics and growth hormones.
Remilk co-founder and chief technology officer Dr. Ori Cohavi thanked the regulator for an “in-depth process, in which our non-animal milk protein was thoroughly tested and found to be safe, of high-quality, and identical to its cow-derived counterpart.”
Founded in 2019, Remilk produces milk proteins via a yeast-based fermentation process that renders them “chemically identical” to those present in cow-produced milk and dairy products. The startup claims that the result is 100 percent similar to “real” milk. Remilk recreates the milk proteins by taking the genes that encode them and inserting them into a single-cell microbe, which they manipulated genetically to express the protein. The product is then dried into a powder.
“This is a defining moment, not only for Remilk, but for the entire global alternative protein industry and the state of Israel, one of the first in the world to recognize the significance of precision fermentation,” said Remilk co-founder and CEO Aviv Wolff. “The opening of the Israeli market to real, animal-free dairy products will place Israel not only at the forefront of global food-tech research and development, but also as a leading market in the world for new food consumption.”
Earlier this year, Remilk won regulatory approval to sell its cow-free milk in Singapore and a letter from the US Food and Drug Administration that its animal-free whey protein can be safely used in food products. That’s after the company started sales of its protein in the US last year.
“Remilk was born to be an international company that dares to challenge the traditional dairy industry but we always dreamt of the moment of launch here in Israel, among families, friends, industry and Israeli society as a whole,” said Wolff.
Remilk, which has raised more than $130 million in capital from investors to date, in July inked a large-scale commercial agreement with the Central Bottling Company (CBC Group), the exclusive Israeli franchisee of Coca-Cola, to roll out a line of dairy drinks, cheeses, and yogurts made with its protein, for the Israeli market within 12 months pending the regulatory approval.
“The product launch planned with the Central Bottling Company is on the horizon as we continue to realize our vision of creating new food systems that can provide nutritious and high-quality solutions for the world’s growing population,” Wolff remarked.
Remilk operates in the dairy alternatives market, which is expected to grow from about $26 billion in 2022 to $66.9 billion by 2030, according to a report by research firm Research and Markets. It is separate from the plant-based milk sector, where beverages are made from soy, almond, coconut, oats, hemp, and other non-animal material.
There are a number of companies operating in the dairy alternative space for milk proteins using precision fermentation technology, such as Israeli startup Imagindairy which says its technology recreates nature-identical, animal-free versions of whey and casein proteins that can be used to produce dairy duplicates. Another one is Pigmentum, which has developed a gene-modified plant-based technology to create milk proteins from lettuce that can be used to make cheese.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the regulatory permit as an “initial breakthrough and a genuine milestone in an area in which the State of Israel is a technological leader.”
“The development of this technology will lead to the economic strengthening of Israel, food security, better dealing with climate change and the welfare of animals,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
In 2022, the Israeli government declared food tech among the top five new national priorities for significant investment over the next five years. Earlier this year, the Israel Innovation Authority announced a plan budgeted at up to NIS 50 million ($13.7 million) to build an R&D hub for cutting-edge fermentation technology of microorganisms, such as yeast or fungi, to eventually produce alternative proteins on a larger scale and uphold the country’s edge in the field.
Over the past decade, the IAA has allocated NIS 230 million ($63 million) in grants for the food tech industry, with over NIS 140 million ($38 million) spent on alternative proteins.
Last year, Israel ranked second after the US in alternative protein investments, with local startups in the field raising some $454 million in capital, according to a report by the Good Food Institute (GFI) Israel, a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote research and innovation in food tech.